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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   245
Anyuta must have been very busy at the base hospital,
for on this dull autumn day the apartment looked quite
neglected. There was a thick layer of dust on everything,
and the flowers on the windowsill and stands were yellow
and wilted, as if they had not been watered for a long
time. There were mouldy crusts on the table, and the
kettle had not been removed. The piano, too, was clothed
in a soft, grey coat of dust, and a large bluebottle, seemingly
suffocating in the musty air, was buzzing dejectedly and
beating itself against a dim, yellowish window-pane.
Meresyev flung open the windows, which overlooked a
sloping garden that had been converted into a vegetable
plot. A blast of fresh air blew into the room and stirred
up the accumulated dust so vigorously that it looked like
a fog. Here a happy idea occurred to Alexei ... to tidy
up the room and give Anyuta a pleasant surprise if she
managed to get away from the hospital in the evening in
order to see him. He begged the old woman to lend him
a pail, a rag and a swab and zealously set about a job
that for ages men had looked upon with scorn. For an
hour and a half he rubbed and scrubbed and dusted,
thoroughly enjoying the work.
In the evening, he went to the bridge where, on his
way to the house, he had seen girls selling large, bright
autumn asters. He bought a bunch, placed the flowers in
vases on the piano and on the table, made himself com-
fortable in the green armchair, and conscious of a pleas-
ant tiredness all over his body, he greedily inhaled the
odours of the meal the old woman was cooking in the
kitchen from the provisions he had brought.
But Anyuta came home so weary that, barely greeting
him, she flung herself upon the couch and did not even
notice how tidy the room was. Only after she had rested
and had taken a drink of water did she look round in
surprise. Smiling a weary smile and gratefully pressing
Meresyev's elbow, she said:
"No wonder Grisha loves you so much that it makes
me a little jealous. Did you do it, Alyosha ... you your-
self? You are a nice boy! Have you heard anything from
Grisha? He is over there. I received a letter from him
the other day, a short one, just a couple of lines. He is in
Stalingrad, and what do you think the silly boy is doing?